Former Law School Dean Lawrence Foster retires after distinguished career of service

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Beverly Creamer, (808) 389-5736
Media Consultant, William S. Richardson School of Law
Posted: May 16, 2016

Lawrence Foster
Lawrence Foster

Longtime UH Law Professor and former William S. Richardson School of Law Dean Lawrence Foster ’81 retired at the end of the Spring semester after a career that included strengthening the financial structure of the Law School in the 1990s with a low-key style that helped the school flourish.

Foster’s illustrious career included serving both as associate dean and dean at the Law School -- spanning 16 1/2 years from 1987 to 2003 -- and presiding over difficult times but also years of tremendous growth. He himself is a 1981 graduate of the William S. Richardson School of Law.

During his administrative tenure, Foster faced a system-wide faculty strike, severe budget cuts, a legislative move in the mid-1990s to shut down the Law School, and the aftermath of 9/11. He handled it all with grace, perseverance and respect for his peers.

“Those were lean times,” remembered Carol Mon Lee, a former associate law dean, in remarks at a recent warm farewell party attended by Law School faculty, staff, alumni and friends. “We all wore multiple hats and hiring freezes were the norm."

Despite the challenges, the Law School flourished, and Foster “ushered in a new period, one of tremendous growth, stability and new respect in the community and beyond,” Lee added.

Former UH President David McClain, who served as dean of the School of Business at UH during the time Foster was dean at the Law School from 1995-2003, called Foster “a remarkable scholar, an influential practitioner, and an outstanding leader."

Said McClain, “Richardson’s reputation today in no small measure is attributable to Larry Foster."

During Foster’s 16½ administrative years, a Masters of Law (LLM) degree program was launched, as well as the Jurist-in-Residence program that brings U.S. Supreme Court Justices to the Law School every other year to teach and mentor.

“These regular visits of U.S. Supreme Court Justices put us on the map,” said Lee.

Additionally, Foster’s stewardship saw the first of many Patsy Mink fellowships awarded for an outstanding law student to spend the summer in Washington, D.C., on the staff of a member of Hawai‘i’s congressional delegation. Several Moot Court teams had first-place national finishes, and the Law School gained significantly in national rankings.

Although he’s primarily a China scholar, Foster also spent years working with Japanese law schools and bar associations to help reframe and reinvigorate legal teaching in Japan.  “I got involved because I’d been going to Japan off and on and gave a number of talks in Japan to law schools and bar associations about American legal education,” said Foster. “And we hosted a number of big delegations at the Law School, the largest being 200 Japanese lawyers in the 1990s.”

In gratitude, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations sent a representative to the Law School with a proclamation thanking Richardson for the efforts that its faculty devoted to legal reform in Japan.

“We played a strong and important role in that,” said Foster. “And they did bring back a form of jury trial.”

After stepping down as dean, Foster returned to teaching, part time in Hawai‘i and part time in China as an affiliate professor at Beijing University’s School of Transnational Law in Shenzhen. But he also spent time as a senior consultant to an international Chinese law firm, and as a trustee of Hawai‘i Tokai International College. He speaks fluent Chinese, and he nurtured the early years of the Pacific-Asian Legal Studies program at Richardson. Graduates who specialize in these courses now hold high-level positions in firms throughout Asia and the Pacific.

Dean Avi Soifer, who stepped into the deanship upon Foster’s departure in 2003, said Foster’s leadership helped enhance the Law School’s reputation for integrity, stewardship and social justice.

“Larry played a key role in conclusively resisting the idea that outside influence would be acceptable in law school admissions decisions,” said Soifer, “and it has been vital to our success that we have sustained this important principle ever since.”

Professor Hazel Beh '91 remembers well the pressure of those years and Foster’s strength in withstanding admissions pressure, as well as his deft leadership during difficult financial times.

“Larry preserved the school’s position that merit, not influence, earned admission to the school,” she recalled in remarks at his retirement party. Beh also spoke highly of how Foster “helped to maintain the school in a time of fiscal crisis,” as higher education was being downsized under former President Kenneth Mortimer.

Foster, who grew up in Kailua, and has lived there most of his life, is a graduate of Kailua High and of the University of Washington, where he earned a BA in 1967, and a PhD in Chinese Studies in 1974. Long before China was well known among academics in the United States, Foster and his wife Brenda spent time there, and in Taiwan, studying the culture, language and laws.

Former Associate Dean for Student Services Laurie Tochiki, who also served with Foster, also spoke warmly of his skills, his compassion, and his wit and wisdom.

“Larry’s career includes many stellar accomplishments,” she said  at his retirement party. “But, in my mind, the largest highlight is creating a sustainable fiscal future for our Law School. Leading at a time when political forces wanted to shut us down, Larry led a journey that shifted our vulnerabilities and made us strong.  That means impact on the lives of thousands of Richardson lawyers, and positive impact on Hawai‘i, and in international relationships.”

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